What Is Freekeh?

Lakshmi Sandhana

Freekeh is a roasted type of immature grain that is typically made from wheat. Called farik, fireek, or freekeh, this cereal food is quite ancient and is even found in biblical texts. The term comes from the Arabic word al-freek, which translates as what is rubbed. The grain is easily found in Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. Lebanon and Algeria also use a great deal of the grain in their dishes.

Some cooks may add freekeh to salad.
Some cooks may add freekeh to salad.

The roasted green wheat looks like a cross between barley and brown rice and has a distinctive, nutty taste. Its toasted flavor and smoky aroma make it very exotic. According to legend, the grain came about thanks to a country within the Eastern Mediterranean region that expected a siege. To prepare for it, the people harvested their wheat while it was still green and immature, hoping to fight off starvation. The wheat, however, caught fire, and the whole of the outsides were burned.

All was not lost, though, because, when the seeds were rubbed, the green grains inside were still fit to eat. In earlier times, fields of green wheat where purposely set afire in a controlled manner to get the grain. These days, the green wheat is harvested young and left to dry in the sun. Farmers roast the wheat over an open fire, and this burns away the straw and the chaff. The wheat attains a rich gold color, and farmers crack and polish it into smaller pieces until it resembles bulgur.

The grain is a powerhouse of nutrients because of the way it is prepared. Drying and roasting the young moisture-laden grains retains the nutritive value and effectively captures them at their peak state. The whole process is natural, and no preservatives or additives are needed. While the term is associated with green wheat, technically freekeh is a process that's not associated with any particular grain. Any grain picked when young and soft and roasted can be called as such.

This high-protein grain also has a lot of fiber, containing around four times more than brown rice. With a very low glycemic index, this food is popular with health food consumers and can be found in natural food stores and some supermarkets. It also has more minerals and vitamins when compared to other grains.

Cooks use the grain to make casseroles, soups, and stews or add it to salads. Some cooks even toast the grain in an oven before cooking it to give it a more intense flavor. Some preparations substitute the grain for rice and couscous. Popular recipes that use the grain are freekeh salad with lemon and sweet potato, vegetable pialf, and sorrel-freekeh tabouli.

There are a number of famous dishes made with the grain that differ from region to region. A delicious dish topped with toasted pine nuts and chicken can be found in Lebanon. In Egypt, pigeon stuffed with freekeh is very popular, while Syrians use it in pilaf with pine nuts, spring peas, and roasted lamb.

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